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    Nature notebook: what to look out for on your winter walks

    26 December 2018

    I was out on the heath doing my usual rounds with Bramble the collie this morning while the Cotswold fog hemmed us in. It is easy to pine for snow at this time of year. But, far from being sorry that we hadn’t been swathed in the promised winter white, I found plenty to relish in the colours and textures that our gentle clime affords during winter. Then, just as I lifted my phone to take a few snaps, out came the sun and the twigs lit up and started to glow. By the end of the walk, the mist had lifted from all around, the fields and hedges were bathed in low, golden light and only the distant hill of Stow-on-the-Wold still had its head in the clouds. Here’s what to look out for as you head into the wild yourselves over the winter break:

    Hedgerows

    It has taken me decades to learn to see what is there rather than yearn for what is absent. Where once in winter, I would have bemoaned the lack of light, foliage and drama, I can now appreciate the bare twigs and lichen. Just stand back from an uncut hedge and you start to see the colour. A proper mixed native hedge is sort of ‘striped’ where the repeated planting pattern of the different species is reflected in the rhythmic blocks of their coloured twigs.

    Larch twigs

    I have always enjoyed a well-formed twig. One of my earliest memories is of finding larch twigs, with perfectly formed, rosebud-like cones, that were elegantly sprinkled along its lichen-covered length and deciding that they had to be collected and displayed at home. It seems I am not alone: Anthropologie has latched on to the Sticks Sensation and started selling them in bundles for £40.00. Save yourself the cash and get out there and cut or pick up your own. Arrange them in a jug or old coffee pot and enjoy the gentle satisfaction of having achieved the same effect for free.

    Hazel & Lime

    Sadly, we don’t have any larch growing here on the heath, so I take what the other species have in the way of twig factor. Fruit trees have dark, knobbly twigs that seem to attract the lichen; dogwoods have ravishing colours on clean, shiny, bendy sticks that come in handy for creating crowns over my flower pots; hazel of course, has beautiful catkins that are already a slender promise that Spring is on its way; but, my new winter BF is our newly planted small-leaved lime: “Tilia Cordata Winter Orange”. This little gem has been favoured with new growth of the most beautiful, rich orange twigs and buds, these glow like delicate fronds of shiny coral. No need to traipse around one of these Winter Wonder Parks with their generators, coaches of visitors and gaudy white lights. Just get out there while the sun’s up and enjoy nature’s own illuminations.

    A winter checklist:

    • Striped mixed native hedges
    • Dogwood
    • Larch Twigs
    • Hazel Catkins
    • Tilia Cordata Winter Orange (to plant)